The Spur Questionnaire: Imre Szeman

Imre Szeman
Imre Szeman

Imre Szeman is Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) of Cultural Studies and Professor of English, Film Studies and Sociology at the University of Alberta. He will be part of our panel on  Canada’s New Social Contract, Part I: The Moral Imperative, happening April 12 at The Isabel Bader Theatre. Get to know Imre a bit better, though his answers to the Spur Questionnaire.

Tell us about your participation in the 2015 Spur Festival.
I’m a cultural critic who attends to the intricate ways in which culture and power are always wound up together. I take my job to be pulling things apart so that we can better see how unexpected connections and interconnections shape what we do and how we see the world. When I was invited to talk about today’s moral economy, how could I then resist? I’m convinced that we want to live in a more just, equitable and moral society. I think that’s hard to do, especially given the prominence we’ve given to profit and property: ‘moral’ and ‘economy’ don’t fit together very easily. I can’t wait to being a small part of this big discussion of how Canadians want to be in this (still) new century.

What do you hope Spur Festival attendees will take away from your session?
I’d be thrilled if attendees could not only get excited about issues shaping their world, but if they could also take the intellectual energy of the Festival back into their everyday lives. It’s hard to do. There are so many conflicting pressures pushing on us from all angles that it can be easier to give over to them rather than putting in the time and energy to actively participate in giving shape to the societies we inhabit.

Which program at the 2015 Spur Festival are you most looking forward to?
In the wake of the strikes this spring at two universities in Toronto, I’m looking forward to listening to Guy Standing’s discussion of precarity. I’m also curious about the session on “The Future of Work.” It’s going to be a great four days!

What is the one item you never leave home without?
Predictably, my cell phone. And my computer.

Which book is currently on your nightstand?
I’m reading David Graeber’s The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy and just started in on Jennifer Jacquet’s Is Shame Necessary? New Uses for an Old Tool. They’re great sounding boards for ideas I hope to bring to the Spur Festival.

In the last year, what is the longest you have gone ‘unplugged’? No internet, no cell phone, etc.
Last summer, my partner and I headed off to Spain for a three-week vacation. As she was being shuffled through security at the airport, she was shocked to find that she had forgotten to stuff her computer into her backpack. A case of her unconscious telling her to take a break? Perhaps. She managed to have a fantastic time being unplugged for nearly a month. The sky didn’t fall and the world didn’t come to an end. In flight, my partner encouraged me to join her on the other side of connected life. I think I might have managed a full day of being offline at some point during that trip. I’m pretty sure, though, that I’m exaggerating.

Who was the last person you texted?
My graduate student, Jeff Diamanti, who is just wrapping up a superb thesis on the social and political history of fossil fuels.

The animated show The Jetsons was set in 2062. Is there anything from their futuristic world that wish were a current reality?
I’m going to be a bore and say: nothing! I’m wary of our impulse to engage in techno-utopian fantasizing as opposed to dealing with the all-too real challenges we face today. If I had to choose, I’d go with George Jetsons’ short workweek. Even billionaire Carlos Slim wonders why we’re not doing more to try to work less!

How do you prefer to communicate with colleagues: by phone, email, text or in person? How do you prefer to communicate with friends?
I’m one of those people who have become used to communicating with everyone via text and email. But there’s nothing like talking face-to-face with friends, colleagues, and indeed, everyone else.

What are you looking forward to in Toronto?
I’ve spent enough time in Toronto for it to feel like a second home. Still, I’m looking forward to meandering streets full of people—something that remains all too rare an experience in Canada.


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